Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Key Updates--And A Survey

1. Have you liked Monet Tiedeman's live blogging of the school board meetings?
Find her work again tonight (the meeting is at Huron High School, by  the way):

https://annarbivore.wordpress.com/

Bookmark it!

2. Congratulations to Scott Westerman, for getting the Ann Arbor Preschool named after him. Dr. Westerman was Superintendent of the Ann Arbor Public Schools for many years and has stayed active in the community. (Yes, even now! He's still on the AAPS Blue Ribbon Advisory Group.)

3. Regarding the rumor that TAs might be outsourced, the school district would like to put that rumor to rest. Here's a comment from David Comsa, the Deputy Superintendent for Human Resources and Legal Services:

There is no chance of AAPS outsourcing teaching assistants. First, the district is actively bargaining with the Paraeducator unit, which includes teaching assistants. Second, state case law considers most teaching assistants to be protected from outsourcing. 
4. Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley has been doing a lot of work on the needs of kids who qualify for special education services in this state.

He has had meetings around the state, and now he has got a survey going, and he's hoping for a better response.

Find the survey at michigan.gov/calley.

I think most parents who have kids with special education needs have been impressed by Lt. Gov. Calley's work on this issue, so...help him out!




5. Need shots? The Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools is offering free immunizations:
Student Immunization Clinics
Walk-ins available from 9 am - 1 pm     
July 29th, 30th  &  August 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th
RAHS - Scarlett Middle School
You do not need to be a registered student at these schools to receive services. RAHS accepts insured and uninsured patients, regardless of ability to pay.
Washtenaw County Public Health staff bringing in polio vaccines.
In the 1950s. From Old News at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Support Ann Arbor Teachers Issues Call to Action

I was asked to post this Call to Action from the Support Ann Arbor Teachers group, released this morning, 6/23/2015. Here it is--read on:

(And I am doing this on my phone so I hope I did it right! The formatting might be weird...)

PROBLEM:

The Ann Arbor Public Schools are in a crisis. The board has instituted a series of destructive policies that have alienated parents and teachers. These policies run counter to the values of the Ann Arbor community:
  • ●  outsourcing and privatizing multiple departments (and eliminating many union jobs in the process)

  • ●  embracing anti-union legislation by removing bargaining provisions from the teachers contract including evaluation, hiring, firing, layoff, recall, and seniority = “the backbone of the contract”

  • ●  implementing budget cuts and pay freezes

  • ●  increasing standardized testing with no provisions for opting out

  • ●  acting in a patronizing, non-collaborative manner with educators, parents and community

    members

    CALL TO ACTION:

    The Ann Arbor community is demanding that the AAPS Board of Education and Superintendent take the following steps immediately.

  1. 1)  Revise the agendas for Regular Meetings of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education so that the agendas place all discussion and voting on issues of high public interest between 6 and 9:30 pm.

  2. 2)  Honor the collective bargaining agreement with the AAEA that is already in place.

  3. 3)  Delay implementation of all testing measures and policies until January, 2016 so that

    administration, parents, and teachers can collaborate on a response to mandates.

  4. 4)  Commit to six public forums in the 2015-16 school year where administration, teachers, and trustees can openly discuss these issues.

Support Ann Arbor Teachers = teachers parents, students, and interested community members trying to help resolve this crisis,


Share this blog with your friends if you like it! Ann Arbor Schools Musings: a2schoolsmuse.blogspot.com
page1image8320

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Grounds Crew Now; Teachers' Aides Next? School Board Meeting Wednesday

You might have noticed this MLive article from June 19, 2015:

Ann Arbor Schools May Privatize Grounds Crew

As noted in the article,

Ann Arbor Public Schools may privatize its grounds crew to save up to $300,000.
The district will have to lay off 13 employees if it hires four local companies to provide grass cutting, snow removal and athletic field care.
The Board of Education on Wednesday, June 17, reviewed a proposal to hire AM Service of Ann Arbor, Great Lakes Environmental Services of Whitmore Lake, JCC Design of Whitmore Lake and Superior Lawn Care & Snow Removal of Ypsilanti to do the work.
"We believe this model of using a number of contractors to deliver services to parts of the district will help meet real time needs and increase agility in keeping grounds in really good shape," said Superintendent Jeanice Swift. (Emphasis added.)
This item will be voted on at Wednesday's (June 24th) board meeting.

Side Note:

Another item on the June 24th agenda will be the "revised" Draft Policy 5060, which addresses parents who refuse to have their children take state tests.

Here is the amended policy--do you think it is better? It does not call out any particular students. But it still maintains that the tests are mandatory, and it says the board may take "any additional actions," which I think is pretty broad.

But back to my other point.

The rumor that I have heard floating around--I have not seen any written documentation (but also I haven't looked for any)--is that the district is looking into outsourcing all of the teachers' aides in the district. Presumably that would mean making it so that another company (possibly PESG, which does the substitute teachers) would hire all of the teachers' aides and supply them to the district.

UPDATED 6/24/2015--response to this rumor from David Comsa, Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources and Legal Services: "There is no chance of AAPS outsourcing teaching assistants. First, the district is actively bargaining with the Paraeducator unit, which includes teaching assistants. Second, state case law considers most teaching assistants to be protected from outsourcing."

Notice the trend? The goal is to make it so that the number of employees the district is directly responsible for is as small as possible. There is a strong financial incentive for this--for all school district employees, the district is responsible for retirement costs (I believe the costs are above 25% of payroll, and the district is unable to control the amount they are required to pay--that is set by the state). It also gives the district a lot more flexibility.

However, there is certainly also a very troubling aspect to this as well. People lose their jobs, and there is no guarantee that they will be re-hired, or that their pay rates will be similar...even if they are, they will lose the opportunity for a state pension. It also distances the district from tough personnel decisions (after the initial layoff)--the district just tells the other company to do X with Y amount of money--if that leads to difficult working conditions or less pay for certain people--it is separated from the decisions of the district itself.

I recognize that the district, per pupil, gets about the same amount of money as we got thirteen years ago--and there-in lies the conundrum. On the other hand--although theoretically the services should not change, in reality I hear people complain all the time about the decline in custodial services, the decline in food service...I don't really know if the decline is real or imagined.

Can you imagine a time where the district outsourced the teachers? (Just. Asking. I have not heard of any plans to do so--and I do not mean to start any panic about that--but that is what some charter schools do.)

If you have feelings about any of this, you should share them with the Board of Education: boe@a2schools.org (note new, shorter, email address!), ideally before the school board meeting on June 24th.



Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Unveiled: The MERC Unfair Labor Practices Complaints--Plus a Reception for PERA

At the end of May I wrote about the unfair labor practice complaints that the Ann Arbor Education Association was filing against the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and the Ann Arbor Public Schools complaint that was being filed against the Ann Arbor Education Association. That post can be found here, and primarily addresses the process of unfair labor complaints.

And here are the complaints!

Ann Arbor Education Association (the union) complaint against the Board of Education of the Ann Arbor Public Schools

The complaint lays out a lot of detail. There are attachments that support the AAEA claim.

I'm lazy and it's in pdf form so I would have to retype stuff and...well, just go read it already!

The attorney is Jeffrey Donahue from the firm of White, Schneider, Young & Chiodini, P.C.


Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education complaint against the Ann Arbor Education Association

The complaint lays out detail and a timeline, but it does not have a lot of attachments, unlike the other complaint.

Read this one too, it won't take too much of your time.

The attorney is Barbara Ruga from the firm of Clark Hill, but the AAPS representative signing the complaint is David Comsa, who is the legal point person/human resources point person for the school district.


********************

And as it happens, the Public Employment Relations Act (the Act which both sides are alleging the other violated) is having its 50th anniversary this year!  So guess what is on the web site of the state's department of Licensing And Regulatory Affairs (LARA)?  An invitation to an event celebrating the Public Employment Relations Act!

Public Employment Relations Act 50th Anniversary Open House
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
1-4 PM Strolling Reception

MERC Detroit Office – Cadillac Place
3026 W. Grand Blvd, Ste. 2-750
Detroit, MI 48202
 
Light Snacks -- Photos and Memorabilia -- Public Welcome

RSVPs requested to LARA-MERC-PERA50@michigan.gov 


Hey, the public is welcome! So if you want to go, you should RSVP. 

Yes, folks, that is Republican Governor George Romney signing PERA on July 23, 1965.
How times have changed, eh? Photo taken from the LARA flyer


Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Live-Blogging the Ann Arbor School Board Meetings

Nope, not me.

Monet Tiedemann has started live blogging Ann Arbor school board meetings. Tonight is the first night! 

For a time, Monet Tiedemann wrote the Ann Arbor Chronicle Ann Arbor school board coverage.

Thanks Monet! Check it out--

https://annarbivore.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/aaps-board-meeting-15-june-2015/


Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Please Take the M-STEP Student and Parent Surveys

The Michigan Department of Education has put out parent and student surveys on the M-Step. I understand (at least on the parent survey) there is a comment section where you can put text. Use it!


Take the survey for students by June 12, 2015.

Take the survey for parents by June 19, 2015.



Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Letter from an Ann Arbor Teacher: Remembering Our Agreements

I received this as an email from an AAPS high school teacher--who also happens to live in Ann Arbor--so she's a community member and voter--and parent!

Oh, and in case it's not clear--this is clearly a partisan (teacher's) point of view. Just FYI, I thought I would start out by acknowledging that. Also--I described some (not all) of this in a previous post, Confused? Just When Exactly Does the Teachers' Contract End?

From my teacher friend:

Discussions about the Ann Arbor teachers’ contract are confusing: the MOAs (memorandums of agreement), TAs (tentative agreements), durations of agreement, ratifications of agreement. It all sounds agreeable but hard to follow. As an AAPS teacher, I realize that if I’m feeling confused about these agreements, others in our community may be feeling equally—if not more--confused. I decided to go back and look at the agreements that the district and the union signed, and I’ve tried to summarize key elements here. Until 2015 the district and union’s statements and actions seemed to be consistent with the agreements. But in the spring of this year, the district started to issue statements and make decisions that seemed to ignore them. Has the district forgotten the agreements it signed? Do we need a new term: forgetting our agreements (FOA)? Since we may be experiencing this FOA, I’d like to introduce another term: remembering our agreements (ROA). Here is my attempt at ROA.
Since I don’t always trust my memory, I’ve been re-reading the documents. All of these agreements are available on the AAEA website (http://www.a2ea.org/) and on the AAPS district website. I’ve included links to the district website throughout. Quoted language from the various documents is in bold. (I haven’t been able to open these documents on the new AAPS website at a2schools.org so the links are to the old website at www.aaps.k12.mi.us.) I hope you will take my ROA as a starting point and then examine these documents for yourself.
In June 2010, the teachers agreed to loan the district money by deducting 2.2% from each teacher’s contract amount. The district agreed to pay us back using a complicated formula. This is in “AAEA June 10. 2010 Tentative Agreement” (Tentative Agreement between AAEA and AAPS For a Successor Agreement Extending the 2009-2011 Master Agreement June 14, 2010) http://www.aaps.k12.mi.us/hrs.home/files/june_14_aaea_ta.pdf  Basically, as revenues increase, a portion will be shared with the teachers. In the same document, the district agreed upon an expiration date for our contract tied to this sharing of revenue:
SECTION VIII. Duration of Agreement
Where ever the phrase “duration of agreement” is used it refers to June 30 of the school year in which Section II above is satisfied. That is the year in which the shared revenue increases total $4,500,000 or more. That date will be known in November when the official audited report is received. Negotiations for a successor agreement should begin by March 1 of that school year per section 1.223 of the Master Agreement.
This is a clear--though complicated--formula for determining the contract’s expiration date: June 30 of the school year in which the shared revenue increases total $4,500.000 or more.
The district has not paid the teachers back the money specified in 2010. In fact, we have given up more money since that loan was made. In March of 2013, at the district’s request, we voted to take a 3% pay cut. This reduction was for one year. The reality of a pay cut would make it hard for anyone to imagine that the district had paid us back or that the contract could now expire. I remember no such suggestion that either of these things had happened. This agreement is in “AAEA March 18, 2013 Tentative Agreement” (http://www.aaps.k12.mi.us/hrs.home/files/aaea_ta_2013.pdf)
Despite the fact that the 3% pay reduction was scheduled to end in June 2014, teachers voted to continue the pay cut (with step freezes) through the next school year, 2014 - 2015. See “AAEA June 20, 2014 Tentative Agreement.” (http://www.aaps.k12.mi.us/hrs.home/files/aaea_ta_2014.pdf) We took this vote in June 2014 in response to a letter sent to us by the Board of Education, saying they would terminate our contract if we did not vote to continue the 3% cut and step freeze for the next year. The grounds for this was the clause in our contract that says:
In the event there are major (exceeding .5% of projected annual revenue) reductions in local, state or federal revenues, or an unforeseen financial crisis which adversely affects the funding of schools, the Master Agreement shall terminate at the time such changes go into effect, except as the contract is extended by mutual agreement. (from article 10.118 of the Master Agreement (http://www.aaps.k12.mi.us/hrs.home/files/tma_for_printer.pdf)
Teachers voted for the pay freeze rather than lose the protections in our contract. The district’s actions and statements certainly seemed to indicate that they thought this was a valid contract. This agreement also included the following provision: “Problem solving to meet in March 2015 to discuss finances and the impact of 10.118.” Some have suggested that is an expiration date, but I don’t see anything about the contract expiring in that line.
Recently, the district has said that our contract needs updating. In her email of May 4, 2015, the superintendent wrote: “we will need to align the teacher contract with the 2011 and 2012 Michigan school reform legislation.” It is true that, under recent Michigan laws, some of the provisions in our contract are now “prohibited subjects” in new teacher contracts. The prohibited subjects are those items that the union may no longer bargain—items such as teacher evaluations, placement, discipline, and layoffs. The laws do take away the union’s right to have a say in how these important matters are worked out. Unfortunately, that is how “right to work” works. But these laws do not require our district to get rid of the provisions, nor do they dictate how the district handles these matters. The requirement is that the union may not bring them up or have a say.
Michigan law also states that a contract containing those prohibited subjects may remain in place until that contract expires. Remember the loan we made in 2010? The district agreed that our contract would not expire until “June 30 of the school year in which Section II above is satisfied. That is the year in which the shared revenue increases total $4,500,000 or 
more.” It seems to me that according to the agreement signed by the district, the contract has not expired because the district has not shared the agreed upon revenue increases with us.
One more point of confusion is the claim I’ve heard that our contract expires in June 30, 2016. This is a deadline found in “AAEA March 18, 2013 Tentative Agreement” (http://www.aaps.k12.mi.us/hrs.home/files/aaea_ta_2013.pdf). It does not refer to the contract’s expiration; it refers to our Association Rights amendment that “shall continue in effect through June 30, 2016.” This has to do with how the union functions and how dues are collected--not the contract’s expiration.
I am having a hard time understanding how the district interprets any of this to mean that the contract is about to expire or that they must remove protections from the contract. How do they explain this FOA (forgetting our agreements)? One explanation the district has offered is that when we voted to take the 3% pay cut (2013) and the pay freeze (2014) to help the district through the financial crisis, we technically opened up our contract which then caused it to expire. I realize that there are many legal details here that are way beyond my pay grade, but common sense tells me that the district should not use our vote agreeing to take a pay cut and a pay freeze (both at their request) as the grounds for terminating our contract.
When I see the signature of our district representative at the bottom of these agreements, I wonder how they are making sense of their current claims. Even if they now regret those decisions, the signatures attest to their agreement. Apparently, the concessions we have made, working cooperatively with the district to get through difficult financial times, have not been good enough for the superintendent and the Board. They now seem intent on undermining our bargained agreements in order to impose an “agreement” on us.




Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Things I'm Reading about the State of Our State's Education

The Best Piece of the Week goes to Lindsey Smith at Michigan Radio.

Reporter’s Notebook: State needs to be more transparent about the schools it’s running is breathtaking, and at the same time damning.

Here is just a snippet:
The Emergency Loan Board is a public body. It should act like one 
Here's the thing about the Emergency Loan Board (ELB).
It has incredible power to keep schools and municipalities out of bankruptcy court. It can lend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars – repeatedly – to schools that are going broke. It even has subpoena power.
Yet there’s very little transparency.
Its three members all head state departments. Each handpicked by the governor.

ELB members (L-R) Department of Technology, Management and Budget Director David Behen; Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Director Mike Zimmer; and state Treasurer Nick Khouri.
 ELB members (L-R) Department of Technology, Management and Budget Director David Behen; Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Director Mike Zimmer; and state Treasurer Nick Khouri. CREDIT STATE OF MICHIGAN
The board has no webpage. Its meetings in Lansing are open to the public, but there is no schedule. Meetings are sporadic.
Meeting minutes aren’t available online, a common practice for public bodies. So you can’t just go somewhere to see what the board has been up to lately.
Meeting notices are sent via email. But there are no agenda or documents attached. If Michigan’s Department of Treasury doesn’t want you to find out ahead of time what it's going to approve, you won’t know.
Any decision the board makes must be unanimous, according to state law. Is that why it functions mostly as a rubber-stamp board?
The decisions the board makes are “vetted” and reviewed by Treasury staff, according to Treasury Department spokesman Terry Stanton.
Read the rest here.


Runner Up: Eclectablog's piece on some state legislators' agenda for schools.


An excellent post at Eclectablog calling out the agenda of some Republicans in our state legislature, for example Rep. Tim Kelly of Saginaw Township, who believes in "publicly-funded education," just not "publicly delivered."



Third Place: A New York Times Article, 'Opt Out' Becomes Potent Political Force.

You might not have seen this article because it is a New York Region article (and I found it courtesy of Diane Ravitch).

Key information:

At least 165,000 children, or one of every six eligible students, sat out at least one of the two standardized tests this year, more than double and possibly triple the number who did so in 2014, according to an analysis by The New York Times.As the vanguard of an anti-testing fervor that has spread across the country, New York’s opt-out movement has become a political force. Just two months ago, lawmakers from both parties, at the behest of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, increased the role of test scores in teacher evaluations and tenure decisions. Those legislators are now tripping over one another to introduce bills that guarantee the right to refuse to take tests.
The maps are really interesting to look at, they show the opt-out movement's growth over time.

Honorable Mention: From the Washington Post, Will Schools Lose Federal Funds if Kids Don't Take Mandated Tests? 


Here's how the article starts:
I’ve recently published a number of posts on the growth and impact of the standardized testing opt-out movement. As more parents choose against allowing their children to sit down for new mandated tests, the pushback from administrators is increasing in many places, with some of them threatening consequences to students who refuse to take the assessments.
Here’s a look at what is true and not true about the consequences attached to opting out from standardized testings. It was written by Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as  FairTest, a nonprofit organization that works to end the misuses of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, educators and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally sound.

And I'm re-reading: 

I've gone back to an excellent series of articles by the Detroit Free Press, on how charter schools are not held accountable.



Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ypsilanti Community Schools Superintendent Interviews This Week!

Ypsi's famous landmark. Picture taken from wikimedia,
Creative Commons license. 2007, cmadler.
I know most of my readers are Ann Arborites, but we all know that good schools are key to having a vibrant society. I've been working in Ypsilanti for several years, and I have kind of fallen in love with the place. And the Ypsilanti schools have a very important decision coming up--the choice of a new superintendent!

So here are the list of interviewees, dates, and times--if you live in Ypsilanti, please try to attend!

There are two local candidates: Ben Edmonson, an Ann Arbor principal (he's been principal at Scarlett, Roberto Clemente, and no is co-principal at Pathways, and he's been a candidate for Ann Arbor superintendent in the last go-round), and Sarina Shivers, who is an assistant superintendent at the WISD (she is asst. superintendent of student achievement, and at the WISD I'm not exactly sure what that means--go listen to her interview, and find out!).

POSITION OF YCS SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS

Location: YCS Administration Building; 1885 Packard Rd.; Ypsilanti, MI 48197

Interviews open to students, parents, staff and community members.

Monday: June 8, 2015 @ 7:00 p.m.
Dr. Denise G. Saddler, Assistant Superintendent for Education Services of Berryessa Union School District; San Jose, CA
Tuesday: June 9, 2015 @ 6:30 p.m.
Dr. Benjamin Edmonson, Co-Principal of Pathways to Success Academic Campus; Ann Arbor Public Schools
Tuesday: June 9, 2015 @ 8:15 p.m.
Dr. Josha Talison, Superintendent of Beecher Community Schools; Flint, MI
Wednesday: June 10, 2015 @ 6:30 p.m.
Dr. Sarena M. Shivers, Assistant Superintendent of Student Achievement at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District; Ann Arbor
Wednesday: June 10, 2015 @ 8:15 p.m.
Dr. Terry Barker, Superintendent; Mishawaka, IN


Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ann Arbor’s Move to Punish Opting Out: Even For This Test-Taking Family, It’s Bad Policy

A guest post by Naomi Zikmund-Fisher

If you look at the sidebar on the right of this blog, it asks that we assume that everyone wants the best for schools. There are (and I’m generalizing here) two general ways you can think about what is best for schools:

Philosophy #1: It is best for schools when schools are well funded, everything is going smoothly and achievement is high.

Philosophy #2: It is best for schools when each individual child, as a whole person, is getting what he or she needs.

As you look at those two possibilities, you probably are thinking that you don’t disagree with either of them. But one may seem more the way you look at schools than the other. Parents tend more towards #2 – we want our kids to get what our kids need. School officials tend more towards #1 – we want our schools to get what they need to serve all kids.

In a perfect world, these two views would never conflict. However, this being the real, imperfect world, they sometimes do. Recent issues surrounding Michigan’s standardized test, the MSTEP, have brought those conflicts to the forefront.

On the one hand, the law says that schools have to test the vast majority of children in order to maintain their government funding, which they certainly need. Philosophy #1 dictates that kids take the test. On the other hand, many parents say that this test is bad for children – their individual children and/or children in general, and therefore do not want their children to participate. Philosophy #2 says kids should not take this test.

During this most recent round of testing, much larger numbers of families than in previous years “opted out” of testing as a protest against the test itself and/or testing policy and/or to protect their own children from the effects of prolonged testing. The school district understandably is concerned with the possibility that this trend could cost the schools money they really need.

At last week’s School Board meeting, the Board had a first briefing on a policy to address this issue. It states that:

Failure to participate in all state assessments may result in exclusion and/or removal from any application-based school or program.

In other words, you let your child take the MSTEP or they cannot attend Ann Arbor Open, Ann Arbor STEAM,  Community, the IB Schools, or the Skyline magnets. And where are the opt-out families disproportionately clustered? At the school whose philosophy emphasizes the whole child and de-emphasizes standardized testing: Ann Arbor Open.

I am going to assume, for the sake of argument, that this policy is legal. Someone with more expertise than I can discuss that aspect. But let’s just suppose for the moment that it is legally permissible. Legally permissible is not the same thing as right.

And this is wrong.

Instead of taking a stance that says, “We respect what you’re trying to do but we don’t think it’s the right thing,” the Board said , “Agree with us or we will punish you.” But by “you,” they mean only parents of children in certain programs. If your child goes to a neighborhood school, there is no consequence at all.

What’s more, instead of opening a conversation with parents who are proponents of opting out, or even discussing the policy openly in advance of the meeting, they voted on it late in the evening and without the proposed policy being attached to the Board agenda.

I don’t think any person on the Board or any member of central administration can look me, or you, or anyone else in the eye and honestly say that they believe these tests are good for children. They may not think they’re as bad as some of us do, but they are flawed.

The Board sees this as purely a financial issue, even though no funding has ever been lost for failing to test enough children. Parents who opt out see this as a question of what is right for children. Faced with that conflict, what do we do?  The Board’s answer not only is to go with philosophy #1, but to flatly punish people for going with philosophy #2.

So I’ll say it again. This is wrong. It is a bad policy moved forward using bad process. If you agree with me, I hope you’ll let the Board of Education know.

Author’s note: At this point, you may be asking yourself:  who is writing this and where does she  stand on the testing issue?

Who am I to say this is wrong?

From 2002-2010 I was the Principal of Ann Arbor Open School. There were a handful of test opter-outers every year, and one year it cost us our “Annual Yearly Progress” certification. I do, however, support the idea that schools should not be able to get out of the fact that they are educating some groups of kids much better than others by only testing those who will do well. The emphasis on testing all children does have a point.

My children took the MSTEP this year. They attend Ann Arbor Open and Community. We decided that, while we think that standardized testing is a poor measure of student growth and school and teacher quality, and that draconian policies that require more and more testing diminish the quality of education for all, opting them out would likely not achieve much, and sitting around not taking a test wouldn’t get back the time wasted.

At the same time, I have a lot of respect for those who made the opposite decision. Good people with good intentions have different ideas of what to do, and I can’t fault someone for doing what they believe is right for their child. It is long past time for the Board to honor the real convictions of those who opt their children out by having an open, honest dialog about how to handle this situation in Ann Arbor, and I believe the proposed policy is a drastic step in the wrong direction.

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Monday, June 1, 2015

There's a New Group in Arbor Town; Parents and Teachers are Riled Up!

There is SO much going on these days. And while I was busy with my life, the school world spun madly on...In the last few weeks, the school board has pushed through two very controversial policies at an hour when most of us were sleeping, and without sufficient notice.

I'm talking about the Prohibited Subjects Policy, which I wrote about here, and Draft Policy 5060, which has gone through first briefing. The Prohibited Subjects Policy was first posted in board docs on the day it was voted on, and Draft Policy 5060--which tries to punish families in "application-based programs" who opt their children out of testing--wasn't even posted in board docs until an astute parent asked what that policy on the agenda was.

June 3, 2015 Update: Point of clarification--board policies do not jump unformed to first briefing. This policy, for instance, was discussed at the May 20 Governance Committee, which was a public meeting held at Skyline at 3:30 p.m. FYI, the Governance Committee is where all potential board policies are discussed. [I don't know that the public was there, but the public IS welcome.]

So, long story short, a new policy is not introduced for the first time at a regular BOE meeting; it goes to Governance first. The public is welcome at these meetings. 

And we, parents and teachers and citizens, have been asleep. I know. I--like so many of you--get up early to go to work; and the school board meetings start with almost two hours of presentations, awards, and public commentary. When people do show up at the meetings, they tend to leave after public commentary. Very few people stay around to the bitter end.

How quiet is it? At the last board meeting, Ann Arbor News reporter Lindsay Knake had this tweet:


The next morning, when I woke up, I laughed at this tweet.

This tweet would, of course, be funny--if it weren't so tragic. That means that aside from the school board members and staff required to be there, Lindsay Knake--who has been the education reporter for the Ann Arbor News for less than a year--was probably the only other (awake) observer in the room.

And that, itself, is a failure!

That is not the only failure.

I reject the fact that the board is not following its own, established, policies and procedures. (I'm not entirely sure if the policies were violated in actuality, because I wasn't at the meetings to see what time they discussed certain items, but I'm quite sure they were violated in spirit. Policies 1200 and Policy 1220 were put in place to ensure that items were discussed while people were still awake, and with proper timelines for giving notice to topics.) I wrote about these issues earlier in an Ann Arbor Chronicle article, Good Ideas, Flawed Process. So if I was calling out the board and superintendent on ideas that I thought were good, but the process was bad, you can be sure that I am upset about ideas that I think are bad, where the process is bad.

And I do think that both the Prohibited Subjects Policy and the Draft Policy 5060 are bad. (Look for a post tomorrow on Draft Policy 5060.)

I reject the idea that either policy had to be created or implemented now.

I reject the idea that either policy had to be brought forward without public discussion, sneaked onto the agenda.

I believe that by acting in this way, the school board and superintendent have unnecessarily inflamed passions with both teachers and parents.

It's puzzling to me--and so, so disappointing--that the board and superintendent have turned to poor process on these issues, when they had such a good model of process, and policy development, for the discussions around weapon-free schools. Why not build on that successful process instead?


*********************************

SO--What Next?


Well, there's a new group in town:

Ann Arbor Community for Trust and Transparency in Schools 

(AACTTS! We hope to have lots of AACTTSion).

Ann Arbor Community for Trust and Transparency in Schools is a new community group focused on how we as citizens and constituents can have a voice in shaping local and state educational policies and decision-making processes. We are coming together to understand and address issues that challenge the values that our community holds as partners in educating our kids.

I don't mind saying that the decisions on these two policies have done a lot to galvanize people. I personally feel that trust in the district is at an all-time low. But it doesn't have to be that way.

If you look at the top of this page, you will see that I have added a "page" to the blog for the AACTTS information. You can click on that tab, or you can follow this link.

Right now we are encouraging people to write to/talk to board members, and there are some sample letters on the page. One-on-one contact is good! Let board members know how you feel--about the policies, about the labor negotiations, about the process the board is using...

You can also sign a petition that is focused on Draft Policy 5060.

Sign the petition here.



Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Labor Update: Unfair Labor Practices and the Michigan Employment Relations Commission Process

But first--one important PSA--the Ann Arbor schools updated their web site this weekend. It was long planned because the web site has been rather hard to navigate and I hope this improves things. But also, I've been made aware that many of my blog links have been lost. This includes recent links I put up about negotiations. Boo. I am sorry, and I hope to recover some of them.

Now, back to negotiations:

1. The Ann Arbor Education Association (teachers' union) filed an unfair labor practices charge against the school district. Per their press release:
The AAEA is filing three charges against the district: 
1. The superintendent interfered and coerced AAEA members by communicating with them directly concerning the contract dispute.
2. The superintendent interfered with the administration of the AAEA by directly communicating with AAEA members concerning her interpretation of the actions taken by AAEA leadership.
3. The District repudiated the AAEA contract by maintaining that some sections are unenforceable or invalid, additionally claiming that the contract will expire June 30, 2015, and refusing to bargain over the International Baccalaureate Programme.

2. The school district responded by filing an unfair labor practice charge against the AAEA. I haven't seen the charges.

3. I asked a friend who is a labor lawyer what happens, generally speaking, with these unfair labor practices that go to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. My friend wrote:

Generally, the case will be assigned to an administrative law judge. The respondent [the district, for the AAEA's charge, and vice versa] could file a motion to dismiss the charge. The ALJ, if he or she doesn't grant the motion would then hold a hearing. The hearing could last several days. The parties would present testimony and exhibits, which would be subject to cross examination. In addition the ALJ may ask questions. In lieu of closing statements, parties typically file a post hearing brief and submit them several weeks after the hearing. It could take months, and sometimes up to a year to get a ruling from the ALJ. That is, briefly, the process.  
So then I asked: So in the meantime does that halt the termination of contract timeline? Assuming that is one of the charges being contested... 

I don't believe the filing of a ULP can halt the proceedings in any way. Either party could file for a preliminary injunction, to maintain the status quo until the ULP is heard and decided. It is a pretty high standard. Whether a preliminary injunction should be issued is determined by a four-factor analysis: 1. harm to the public interest if an injunction issues; 2. whether harm to the applicant in the absence of a stay outweighs the harm to the opposing party if a stay is granted; 3. the strength of the applicant’s demonstration that the applicant is likely to prevail on the merits; and 4. demonstration that the applicant will suffer irreparable injury if a preliminary injunction is not granted.

4. So as things stand now, the district will implement as if the contract has terminated on June 30th. That means wages will stay the same as now (which is part of what the district has been after--they were scheduled to rise July 1). I guess (not sure about this) if the district loses, they would be responsible for paying the teachers back. I guess that's a risk they are willing to take. Since my labor lawyer friend says these things move kind of slowly, that could potentially be months of back pay...




5. See these signs? These are in support of Ann Arbor teachers and the union. They are not just for teachers! You can get one too.

UPDATE 6/1/2015: Get the signs at the Michigan Education Credit Union, 4141 Jackson Rd.


Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Take Action on State School Aid Fund Today!

I just got this from Michigan Parents for Schools:



Dear Friends,
Once again, we wait to see what kind of funding our community K-12 schools will receive next year. All we have to go on are the three alternate plans produced earlier this yearOnce again, we wait for key lawmakers to emerge from secret talks in the proverbial "smoke-filled rooms" and tell us what's best for our schools. It's been a long time since parents have had a direct voice in those talks. But here we are - we are watching, and we vote.
Since it's hard to know what details are being negotiated, it's hard for us to advocate for one thing over another. We know that there will be no "surprise bump" in school aid revenue next year, which in recent years has allowed the legislature to appear generous at the last minute. So maybe it's time that we set down what we believe and what we want for our schools.
1) It's time to stop re-slicing the school funding pie, and instead make sure the pie is large enough for schools to do what we want them to do. Every school district should see its funding keep up with rising costs, and at a very minimum keep up with inflation. None of the three earlier budget proposals would do this. We need to restore the cuts made to school aid over the last decade, and we need to do so in a fair way.
2) Equal isn't always equitable. Some students need more help than others, and we need to make sure our schools can give all students the help they need. Our school funding system should offer more help where it's needed, and not at the expense of goal #1 above.
3) We know there are meaningful steps that can be taken to improve all schools. We've been discussing some measures to help all children become enthusiastic readers and others to provide the professionals who teach our children with feedback and support to refine their craft. And we don't just mean more testing. Whatever programs we choose as a state must be based on solid research and need to have their costs covered by increased funding - not by carving out existing funds.
4) Lastly, we've been flying blind for years, setting state school funding without checking to see if it was adequate. There is a law on the books which will require the state to conduct a study to see what it costs for schools to do everything we're asking of them. Our leaders should have the courage to perform that study, and not sweep it under the rug as some have recently suggested.
These are our basic principles. There is a lot of detail behind them, but this list covers the core ideas. Let's send a message to our lawmakers - it's time to stop playing clever games with school funding and instead do right by the children and communities of this state!
Thanks for making a difference,
Steve Norton
Michigan Parents for Schools


allows you to TAILOR your message to state legislators. Please take action!


Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

AAEA To File Unfair Labor Practice Charge, Asks for Parent/Citizen Support

Tonight, while I was on my way to the Community High School Communicator banquet (follow the link to see their great work), the Ann Arbor Education Association was setting up for a press conference, where they announced that they are going to file an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the Ann Arbor schools.

Linda Carter, AAEA President, began her remarks (as distributed to the press), like this:

I stand here today with my fellow teachers, gathered in unity to voice our shared concern about the future of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. We believe the superintendent and the Board of Education have embarked upon a path which will at the very least damage, if not destroy, this school district.  We will file an Unfair Labor Practice charge on behalf of our students who deserve professional, high quality, fairly compensated teachers in their classrooms.
After taking several pay cuts in recent years to keep the district afloat, teachers were shocked and saddened when our Superintendent, Dr. Jeanice Swift, and the Board of Education threatened to terminate our contract if we failed to bargain a new one in 60 days.
Making matters worse, the Board introduced three new policies at last week’s board meeting that align with our State Legislature in Lansing—policies that are out-of-step with our community’s values and remove job protections critical to teacher success and strong educational outcomes.
Teachers don’t understand why our Superintendent and board are taking such aggressive actions against us, especially in light of the sacrifices we have made in recent years.

Carter also asserted, "We have been in continuous, collaborative problem solving conversations every month of this school year.  And in the past two weeks, district officials have met twice at our invitation--in our union offices--to discuss our contract.  We even met last Thursday, May 21st--the same day the Superintendent sent an email claiming we weren’t willing to meet."

You can read the full text of Carter's remarks here.
You can read the AAEA's press release here.

[And if you are looking for the "other side," the district has an FAQ page about negotiations here.]

If you want to read actual contracts language of the various contracts, you can read it here.

The teachers' union is asking supporters to write letters to the school board and superintendent (boe@aaps.k12.mi.us).

My friend Bev Davidson offered her letter as a template if you are looking to write a letter. It's long! So I am pasting part of it in below, and then I link to the entire letter. You should feel free to borrow from this letter, or to write your own, with your own thoughts.

To the Board of Education and Dr. Swift,
I am a parent of two children in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.  I am grateful that we have the opportunity to live and work in such a rich community, and that our children can be educated by dedicated and hard-working teachers in our school system.  Our school district has a solid reputation of providing innovative educational opportunities, and of having exemplary teachers.  I am concerned that the recent discussions between the Superintendent and the Board of Education and the teachers is creating a negative climate that will ultimately only hurt our children.  

Much has been reported to the media by the Superintendent about the need to be fiscally responsible and protect and manage the school budget, and that there is a need to open the teachers contract and negotiate even more pay cuts.  I find this tactic by the Superintendent to be disingenuous.  Teachers in our district have agreed to take pay cuts in 2010, 2013, and 2014 for the sake of the school district.  Since 2010, the teachers have given the AAPS over $10 million through these major concessions.  The District made a promise to the teachers in 2010 to provide $4.5 million to the salary schedule for agreed upon concessions.  Until that promise is fulfilled, the contract remains in effect and enforceable.  The District has not made part or all of that payment to the teachers.

Our teachers have more than fulfilled their end of the agreements with integrity, fidelity, and transparency. Further, the DIstrict has not honored the last 2 one-year Memorandum of Agreements.  Instead they have threatened the teachers with "the nuclear clause" (10.118) to get out of promises they made to restore the concessions to the teachers in 2013 and again in 2014.  Since the district has increased revenue this school year, they cannot use the "nuclear clause," rather, the District is now engaging in anti-teacher and anti-union rhetoric and propaganda to shape public opinion and bully teachers into bargaining.   

We all know that public schools are hurting due to budget issues, and this is not because of union contracts and teachers salaries.  We all know that the way our state funds public schools is archaic and unfair, and that the state legislature and our Governor is on a mission to dismantle public schools.  I am saddened and disheartened that our elected board members and Superintendent are engaging in such similar tactics and trying to impinge on worker's rights and effectively destroy our beloved school district by blasting our teachers and their lack of commitment to our children.  I also find it disrespectful that our Superintendent sends an email to parents which blames the teacher's union for not coming to the bargaining table and pitting parents against teachers.  There is no need for that kind of information, true or not true, to be sent to parents.  Bargaining rights and union-administration negotiations should be kept at the bargaining table.

The letter continues here.
Citizens of Ann Arbor--I encourage you to get educated and stay engaged!

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

AddThis